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(c) 2015 MBARI

Inside the Mysterious Hydrothermal Vents Found Deep Below the Gulf of California

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(c) 2015 MBARI

This spring, scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) discovered a field of ocean vents spewing super-heated water into the bottom of the ocean between Baja California and the rest of Mexico. There are plenty of these hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean off the coast of North and Central America, stretching from Canada down to Costa Rica, but this one is different. For one thing, at 12,500 feet below the surface, the Pescadero Basin vents are the deepest. And its structure is one never seen in the northern hemisphere. 

Most hydrothermal vents in North America are volcanic in origin and are found on top of basalt rock. Known as black smokers, they shoot out dark, mineral-rich water. These newly-discovered towering vent chimneys, though, are white, and are made up of calcium carbonate, formed when super-hot water (as high as 554 degrees Fahrenheit) emerged from the sea floor and mixed with frigid ocean water. Unlike the basalt vents, they emit clear hot water rather than black smokey liquidThis is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen on the bottom of the ocean,” Robert C. Vrijenhoek, a senior scientist and biologist at MBARI, tells mental_floss

The odd vents also feature unusual marine life rare to other locales. They’re covered in organisms, especially tubeworms of the genus Oasisia. “They cover the carbonate chimneys top to bottom, as high as 30 meters [98 feet],” Vrijenhoek says. “It’s like a garden of red flowers. It’s incredible.” 

Vrijenhoek and his colleagues are still classifying the exact species present at the Pescadero Basin vents.  Though found elsewhere in the world, the tubeworms, clams, squat lobsters, and other life that cling to the vents appear in larger numbers in the Pescadero Basin than have been observed elsewhere, while common vent animals like riftia tubeworms are rare, for reasons the scientists cannot yet fully explain. “This unique depth and chemistry has favored a subset of species that might not be common elsewhere,” Vrijenhoek says. 

However, they do have some clues. “We think this deep basin [the vents are] located in doesn’t have an ocean crust layer,” hypothesizes marine geologist Dave Clague, a senior scientist at MBARI who led the project. “It’s essentially mantle rock that’s exposed,” he guesses. There are similar crust-less spots in the Indian Ocean and the mid-Atlantic, but this would be the first spot where the mantle is covered by hydrothermal vents and, of course, the resulting towers upon towers of tubeworms.  

[h/t: National Geographic]

All images (c) 2015 MBARI

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iStock
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infographics
All the Plastic Ever Produced, Visualized
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iStock

Humanity has a plastic problem. The cheap, durable material has become a vital part of our vehicles, food packaging, and even the inner structures of our homes. We’ve already produced 8.3 billion metric tons of the stuff, and most of it is sitting in landfills where it could take centuries to break down.

In early 2017, a study published in the journal Science Advances highlighted the literal weight of this growing issue. Researchers calculated that the bulk of all the plastic that’s been made by humans is equivalent to that of 25,000 Empire State Buildings or 80 million blue whales. Of that, only 9 percent has been recycled. The amount of plastic waste currently trashing our planet adds up to 6.3 billion metric tons, and the researchers don’t see our plastic addiction getting any less severe in the near future. By 2050, the plastic in our landfills is expected to hit 12 billion metric tons. You can see more alarming statistics from the study in the infographic below.

Infographic showing plastic production statistics.
University of Georgia, Janet A Beckley

Of all the trash we produce, plastic is some of the toughest to get rid of [PDF]. Scientists are looking into solutions, such as plastic-chomping caterpillars and germs, but for now consumers can do the planet a favor by investing in more reusable goods.

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Noriyuki Saitoh
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Art
Japanese Artist Crafts Intricate Insects Using Bamboo
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Noriyuki Saitoh

Not everyone finds insects beautiful. Some people think of them as scary, disturbing, or downright disgusting. But when Japanese artist Noriyuki Saitoh looks at a discarded cicada shell or a feeding praying mantis, he sees inspiration for his next creation.

Saitoh’s sculptures, spotted over at Colossal, are crafted by hand from bamboo. He uses the natural material to make some incredibly lifelike pieces. In one example, three wasps perch on a piece of honeycomb. In another, two mating dragonflies create a heart shape with their abdomens.

The figures he creates aren’t meant to be exact replicas of real insects. Rather, Saitoh starts his process with a list of dimensions and allows room for creativity when fine-tuning the appearances. The sense of movement and level of detail he puts into each sculpture is what makes them look so convincing.

You can browse the artist’s work on his website or follow him on social media for more stunning samples from his portfolio.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

Bamboo insect.

[h/t Colossal]

All images courtesy of Noriyuki Saitoh.

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